A key Democratic lawmaker says the State Department risks an escalating confrontation with his committee over the issue of U.S. government assessments of Iraqi anti-corruption efforts. VOA's Dan Robinson reports, the warning came during a hearing in which a former anti-corruption judge said rampant corruption is blocking progress in Iraq.
In his first appearance before U.S. lawmakers, Judge Radhi Hamza al-Radhi described corruption as rampant, affecting virtually every government ministry, and involving some of the most powerful officials in Iraq.
He estimates this has cost Iraq as much as $18 billion, contributing to sectarian militias, hampering political reconciliation, and infecting Iraq's oil industry.
"On economic reconstruction, on basic services, amenities and infrastructure and the rule of law," said Radhi Hamza al-Radhi. "Corruption has contributed to the failure of the Iraqi government to control the militias that control parts of the government in fact."
Radhi himself has been accused of corruption by an Iraqi parliamentary committee. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki recently replaced him, asserting that Radhi fled Iraq to avoid corruption charges.
Radhi says he has been in the United States on a diplomatic visa under the auspices of the U.S. Justice Department, but is seeking U.S. citizenship for himself and his family, with support from Congressman Henry Waxman and two other Democratic committee chairmen.
While stopping short of accusing Prime Minister Maliki of being personally corrupt, in this exchange with Congressman Waxman, Radhi repeated allegations the Iraqi leader has interfered with anti-corruption cases.
TRANSLATOR : I cannot say that someone is engaged in something unless I have evidence and proof, however, Maliki has protected some of his relatives that were involved in corruption endeavors.
WAXMAN: And he has allowed other ministers to protect their employees from any investigation?
RADHI-TRANSLATOR: Yes, and for that reason the Council of Ministers, the Prime Minister, has closed cases related to 100-billion Iraqi dinars, and in Iraqi currency such an amount is not a small amount.
Congressman Waxman has led efforts in the U.S. Congress to determine how billions of dollars in U.S. and Iraqi government funds have been spent since the ouster of Saddam Hussein.
He accuses the Bush administration of trying to cover up details of Iraqi government corruption, and raises broader questions about the impact on U.S. efforts in Iraq.
"The Maliki government is our ally in Iraq, but we need to ask, is the Maliki government too corrupt to succeed," said Congressman Waxman. "And if the Maliki government is corrupt, we need to ask whether we could in good conscience continue to sacrifice our blood and tax dollars to prop up his regime."
The State Department has refused to provide documents to the committee, including a now classified U.S. Embassy document sharply critical of Iraqi government anti-corruption efforts.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Larry Butler pointed to bilateral diplomatic sensitivities and national security concerns in refusing to discuss specifics in a public hearing.
"Mr. chairman, questions which go to the broad nature of our bilateral relationship with Iraq are best answered in a classified setting," said Larry Butler.
An angry Congressman Waxman warned that the State Department risks new confrontation with his committee on the issue, calling refusals to provide testimony in public hearings, even on broad questions about Iraqi anti-corruption performance and commitment, unacceptable.
During Thursday's hearing, Stuart Bowen, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, spoke of a rising tide of corruption in Iraq.
"We did not bring corruption to Iraq and it will not be gone whenever we leave, but it is an issue that can fundamentally undermine our efforts to build a democracy, a fledgling democracy," said Bowen.
Ranking panel Republican Tom Davis said it is not enough to point out Iraq's culture of corruption.
"Good government and democrats in Iraq don't need to be lectured by this committee on the extent of corruption in their country," said Congressman Davis. "They need our help in building the structures, policies and processes to fight it."
Some committee Republicans questioned Radhi's qualifications and background. But panel Democrats responded by pointing to Radhi's record, and death threats against him and family members, also noting that he had been tortured under Saddam Hussein.